In cities one hardly gets to know people. Everybody is busy. Contacts are often short and functional. But in villages you have time, people have time. You watch individuals grow up, get to know them, partake in their sorrows and joys.
Kumaran of my village, Olavipe, is a Pulaya, a Scheduled Caste. Here the word is used as a statement of fact and not derogatorily. These are days when people can be prosecuted for calling jathi peru (caste name).
Kumaran’s father, Kuruppan, was a fairly tall, dark and affable person. He had a ready smile as well – sparkling white teeth (no toothpaste those days) on the black face. And he was a man of guts, a trait his son has inherited. Kuruppan was one of the few people who said ‘no’ to the priests from Cochin who came to Olavipe to convert the low castes to Christianity. (See History of conversions to Christianity in Kerala – an overview in Articles By Abraham Tharakan)
I think Kuruppan was quite radical in his outlook. He named his eldest, a girl, Meenakshi. That was something unusual among Pulayas in my area. The regular names were Chirutha, Kali, Neeli and so on. Even Kumaran was a deviation from traditional Pulaya names.
Kumaran had primary education which was not so common among Pulayas 70 years back. But he is the type to whom education necessarily doesn’t have to come from formal schooling. Highly intelligent and observant, he learned many things on his own. One among these was the capacity to judge people and situations right and act appropriately.
A good physique and personal courage makes him stand out. He has the capability to be equally at home in the paddy field or a factory. Once I sent him with a team to a factory which was facing security problems. The situation was handled well. He also worked for sometime as a foam rubber fabricator.
A general complaint against Kumaran is that he doesn’t do any hard work (except when the bosses are looking) but makes others toil. Well, that too is an ability. At the end of the day the work gets done.
I took this photo of Kumaran last month at Olavipe. Notice the thorth (thin towel) on his left forearm? That is a show of respect in the villages. Normally it would be worn on the head like a turban or kept on the shoulder.
Kumaran has taken care of his children well. The eldest is an officer with a major bank. Three are involved in smalltime business like shrimp farming on contract. And one is the elected representative to our Panchayat (the powerful Local Administration body)!
Kumaran is our Senior Pulaya now. That is an important position in the agricultural scenario. He is also our chief of security. He is not the type who would retire. He would go on till he fades away.
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